"A Cuba in Diaz Balart's Image or that of Today's Miami"
by Alberto Jones
On August 1, 1975 in Helsinki, Finland, 35 countries signed what became known as the Helsinki Human Rights Agreement. The Agreement declared, among other things, "the right to be free of governmental violations of the integrity of the person..."and "the right to enjoy civil and political liberties...." For myself and other Afro-Cubans and millions of human beings, understanding the scope and morality of this agreement was very easy.
I was born on a hot and humid day of August 1938 in La Guira, Banes, Cuba, a community of transplanted emigrants, mainly from the English speaking Caribbean Islands and Haiti, lured to Cuba to what was billed as the "Promised Land" by the United Fruit Company, Manati Sugar Company, and others.
In this community on the "other" side of the tracks, I learned early on, that the only homes we were allowed to build were the shack-type homes with thatched roofs that defined our living quarters. Sewer, running water, electricity, schools, jobs, hospital or medical services were limited to people living on the "other" side of town.
What we did have was a pervasive infant mortality due primarily to preventible diseases that touched the lives of every family. There were rampant pre and post partum deaths; hunger and malnutrition seen predominantly in children with their disproportionate heads and distended abdomens, overflowing with such a variety of intestinal parasites sufficient to produce our own Atlas of Parasitology. Another common landmark was the infamous gully with its putrid drainage winding through our neighborhood.
The only schools in our community of approximately 8-10,000 people, were two or three mock-classrooms of 10-20 children in the living room of those slightly more enlightened members of our community. Two churches had what could be qualified as small schools, with approximately 40 children each. Because of our teachers’ own limited education, the level of training by those who were able to stay through the entire school program (3-4 years) was the equivalent of a low third grade.
But this vicious cycle gets even worse if we add that living in Cuba, a Spanish speaking country, the teaching was in English and everything that was taught to us, was either pertaining to England, Ireland, or Jamaica! We learned about Admiral Nelson but nothing about Marti, we learned about Pound, Shilling and Pence, but nothing about Peso, Peseta y Centavos. We learned about the Thames river but nothing our own Rio Cauto!
Unbelievable as it may sound today, most of the kids could not stay in school, either because their parents could not afford it or their helping hands were already required on the plantation. As a direct result of this horrendous environment, our community, and tens of similar ones dispersed through what was then the provinces of Camaguey and Oriente, did not produce in 60 years a single person who had achieved a mid level or higher education. An exception was a lady who was able to complete nursing school, only because her parents had the vision and could afford to send her back to Jamaica.
The only jobs available was in the zafra, the 4-5 months sugar harvest, which was virtually slave labor, because it was not only the lowest paying job, but it also kept the people in perennial debts: whatever income you made last year would be credited to debts incurred this year. This practice was so pervasive that thousands of workers never saw or received money, they would only receive promissory notes -VALES- from the landowners, who were often the same owners of the stores. That is why, 10-12 year-old boys went off to work in the fields, while girls in the same age group became maids.
I will be eternally grateful to my grandfather, George Jones. Pappi Georgy, as he was known, was a dignified man of enormous fortitude, respect and deep religious beliefs, who kept our family together in spite of the most difficult circumstances by instilling in us honesty and moral values. My grandfather was among the fortunate few, because, as an orderly in the United Fruit Company's hospital, he had a year round job paying 50 cents per day.
There were always people sitting in my backyard, waiting for Georgy to get off his job. Some suffered from diarrhea, vomiting, fever or any sort of injuries. He would cleanse their wounds or give them medication he stored in a coffin-like cabinet he kept in his bedroom. As I pieced these events together, I concluded that this honorable man, who preached values to us, was forced by the brutal society in which he lived, to steal from his workplace, in order to serve those who were deprived of the most basic means of survival.
What can we say about the psychological trauma endured by unfortunate mothers, trapped in abusive relations, domestic violence and occasional life threatening situations without anywhere to go, forced to live this hazardous existence as the only means of feeding their hungry children.
For these and so many other reasons, none of us had to flock to South Africa to see what Apartheid was all about. We were born, lived and many died in our own Soweto! That's why it is so painful to us, when we hear the likes of Diaz-Balart attempting to apply the content of the Human Rights Declaration, to their narrow and selfish, self serving interest.
Where were these demagogues, hypocrites and frequently active perpetrators of the terrible conditions previously described when young people were beaten, tortured, disappeared or murdered, and left by the side of the roads to rot by the military structure that they helped put in place to protect their illegal loot, stolen public funds, or immoral business practices?
For us to have a clear picture about the real intentions and the interests that these individuals stand for, suffice to say, that Diaz-Balart's father was one of the highest ranking government official in the Batista regime while all of the above was happening, and today, both his sons, one as a State and the other as a U.S. Representative, both representing Miami, which has become one of the most politically corrupt, segregated, bankrupt, drug ravaged community in the nation. I can only wonder if the Cuba that U.S. Representative Diaz-Balart struggles fervently to recover - even at the expense of the country's sovereignty - may well be a Cuba reconstructed in his father's image or that of today's Miami.
*Originally published in "La Alborada", Summer of 1998